Thanks to the brilliant 2000AD Humble Bundle, I’ve been able to get hold of an awful lot of reading material, some of which I’m catching up with for the first time. The Ballad of Halo Jones (which is included in the bundle in its entirety) is a comic that I’ve read before, though not for many years – and certainly not in the form it’s included in here, remastered and colourised for this edition, which was published in 2018.
The Ballad of Halo Jones – Volume 1 is the first book of three that were published in 2000AD. Nine volumes were planned, but disputes between the creators and IPC – the publishers of 2000AD in the 80s – meant that the story was left incomplete at three volumes. In documentary Future Shock – The Story of 2000AD, this is touched upon – with a clearly emotional Neil Gaiman recounting that Alan Moore told him the story in its entirety – and lamenting that we were unlikely to ever see more of what would have been one of the greatest comic book masterpieces of all time. He says that, had it been able to run its course, we would be talking about Halo Jones even today in the same breath as epics such as Moore’s Watchmen. In the same documentary, Leah Moore – Alan’s daughter and a highly regarded comic book writer in her own right – is similarly emotional about the fact that we’re not likely to see the conclusion of the story. Seeing how choked up both creators become when talking about the tragically incomplete Halo Jones saga is incredibly affecting.
However, what we do have are three books that are – to this day – held in incredibly high regard, for very good reason. The Ballad of Halo Jones was first published in the pages of 2000AD in 1984. Writer Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson’s tale was an unusual one for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, seeing as many of the strips at the time were focused on gritty action and violence, starring an array of badass male characters. By contrast, Halo Jones is a teenage girl who dreams of escaping her life of poverty on The Hoop, a dumping ground for the poor and marginalised people – and arm-less lizard-esque aliens, the Proximans – of the 50th century.
Though initially tough to get into due to the abundance of future slang that’s used and the way that the world and its characters aren’t introduced with a traditional comic book style text box exposition, once you get over that initial hurdle it’s clear that the world as presented in Halo Jones is incredibly rich, detailed and brimming with life. The world-building in snippets of dialogue and incidental detail in the art is nothing short of astonishing. Halo Jones and her friends are wonderfully relatable characters too, at least after you settle into their unique 50th century vocabulary. Though the focus here is mostly on a group of very down-to-earth women and their attempts to plan and co-ordinate a shopping trip, something that – to us at least – is generally quite mundane, a lot of mileage is wrought from the unique setting and its various denizens. It’s not without danger, potential violence or tragedy either.
Though Alan Moore’s inventively slang-drenched writing is clearly a highlight – including some wonderful creations, such as the relaxation-inducing explosives known as ‘Zenades’ – there’s also a satisfying element of social commentary throughout. Ian Gibson’s art remains absolutely wonderful too, with an appealingly unique look to the fashions, characters, environments and hardware of the world. It still feels fresh even now, 36 years on – and it’s incredibly refreshing that at no point are characters sexualised or treated any differently because they’re women, which is an approach that remains reasonably uncommon in mainstream comics even today.
The purist in me was a little concerned about the art being colourised, feeling that it would likely take away from the detail and general feel of the original work. However, the colourisation – by Barbara Nosenzo – has been respectfully and thoughtfully done in a pseudo-painted style that evokes the pieces of coloured Halo Jones art that had previously been seen; and it does actually add a new layer of vibrancy to the visuals.
Though it’s been a very long time since I read the rest of the prematurely concluded saga, I can’t wait to reacquaint myself with Halo’s journey in books two and three. The Ballad of Halo Jones remains a brilliant, important milestone for comics that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in the UK’s biggest and longest-running sci-fi comic.
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